Monkeybrain Comics Co-Founder Chris Roberson Talks Edison Rex

Chris Roberson has had a strange year and a half or so.

Having taken over J.M. Straczynski's floundering Superman title during the "Grounded" arc, he managed to spin some of that dross into gold and churn out some unexpectedly exciting Superman stories. When The New 52 relaunch came around, however, there wasn't a place for Roberson, either in the Superman family of titles or at DC at all. He took the opportunity to launch some creator-owned work at IDW, where he also wrote a Legion of Super-Heroes/Star Trek crossover that was better than the considerable sum of its parts.

It was during that time, with a blooming relationship with IDW and a creator-owned book at Vertigo struggling to stay afloat, that Roberson became Internet-famous for his views on Before Watchmen (spoiler alert: he didn't like the idea). Following the cancellation of I, Zombie, he announced that he wouldn't be working for DC anymore (save one project which the publisher later released him from) and shortly thereafter founded Monkeybrain Comics with his wife, Allison Baker.

As part of that company's exciting July 2 launch, the first issue of Roberson's own new series, Edison Rex, debuted. Edison Rex will be seen by a lot of people as Roberson getting the opportunity to follow up his Superman run with a Lex Luthor story, and that's probably fair--you see us fall into that during the course of this interview.

The book is mcuh more than that, though, as Roberson ably explains below.

It's also a hugely entertaining first issue--good enough that we wanted to talk to him a little bit about it, and to announce that, starting at the end of this month when the second issue of the series is released, we'll be taking a monthly look at Edison Rex with Roberson and, when possible, artist Dennis Culver, providing a little bit of a commentary track not unlike we do with Dan Jurgens on--well--Superman.

Roberson joined us earlier this week to talk about Edison Rex #1.

As someone who's done the brand-name version of Superman, what was it that was attractive about making your own interpretation of these characters?

Well, I think that there are a lot of appealing aspects to those TYPES of characters that can get lost when dealing with the details of specific characters in particular. That may be why so many of the most memorable interpretations of many of the most famous characters are “Elseworlds” or “What Ifs” or in some other way “out of continuity.” There are interesting questions that you simply can’t ask and have answered when you’re dealing with characters that have to continue appearing in monthly comics interminably.


But there’s something very attractive about building new characters that occupy similar “ecological niches” in their worlds, and then letting those kinds of questions-and-answers play out. From my understanding, that’s what lead to some of my favorite storylines in Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, for example, and we’re employing a similar approach with Edison Rex. These are not simply the same characters with the serial numbers filed off, but are new characters that build on the same general archetypes.

Other than Alan Moore and Mark Waid, it's hard to think of many guys who have had the opportunity to do both. Is that kind of rarified air you're breathing?

Alan Moore and Mark Waid are among the handful of comics writers whose work helped me decide what kind of comics I wanted to write. I’m not willing to admit that I’m breathing the same air as them. Let’s just say that I’m delighted to be following in their footsteps!

The subtitles you give the characters--"Valiant, Protector of Earth" and "Edison Rex, Criminal Genius"--seem very kind of B-movie inspired. Is that a theme we can expect to see in this series, or is that something I'm reading too much into?

There’s probably some b-movie elements in the title’s DNA, along with old comic books, Saturday morning cartoons, action figures, and such things.

Obviously with the start of Monkeybrain coming on the heels of your, ahem, increased media profile, this book was going to be under the microscope. Is there a particular reason you chose this one over other projects you're developing as your launch title, or was it just timing?

It was just how things timed out. I actually have four projects in the works that will be coming out through Monkeybrain, but Edison Rex was the first one to be ready. We can thank Dennis Culver for that!

How much of the characters' backstory will we see in this series? Clearly there's some fertile ground there, to basic things like setting up the status quo to somewhat more recent things like exploring Valiant's bloodlust.

We’ll be learning quite a bit more about these characters and their world as the stories unfold. A lot more, in fact.

Will you deal with things like how hesitant the world would be to accept a notorious criminal as their new top-tier hero? It's been touched on a bit in titles like Incorruptible or The Life and Times of Savior 28, but often those titles had other things to worry about and so didn't get to give it a ton of page time.

Yes, in fact that’s one of the main things these early installments will be dealing with.

How hands-on were with you Culver in putting together the character designs for this book? They feel very kind of simple and Kirby-esque, but still contemporary. Again, I draw the parallel of Mike Cavallaro's work in The Life and Times of Savior 28.

I had worked out the broadstrokes about who Edison Rex and Valiant were before Dennis and I started talking about collaborating on something, but when I asked him what he wanted to work on he essentially gave me the elevator pitch for Edison Rex, even though I’d never told him anything about it. The really interesting part of the project for me, and visually in particular, is seeing the ways in which our two sensibilities overlap and where they don’t. I think the first design Dennis did of the character of Edison himself was almost identical to what readers saw in the first issue that came out in July. We’ve gone back and forth about some of the other characters a little, but in most cases it’s been like we’re communicating in a kind of shorthand. I can describe a character in just the barest of details, and in short order Dennis sends back a design that is roughly what I had in mind, only a million times better.

The premise of the series almost picks up where something like All-Star Superman leaves off--or really any "happy ending" for the hero, where the world he's made better is then left to fend for itself. Was that intentional, kind of subverting the never-ending series of non-endings given by most monthly superhero books?

As I said above, it’s less a question of subverting the monthly superhero construct as it is taking the opportunity to explore questions that couldn’t be answered in a monthly title.